Philippa and I are at Painshill Park in Surrey for the recording of an interview for the BBC’s coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show. The BBC need to prepare in advance pieces about each of the show gardens for their “red button” facility and for their website. For this we have to pretend that the garden has been built and that we are at the Show standing in our garden. This requires significant feats of imagination, with which we both struggle , so early in the day. The interviews are taking place outdoors in an enchanting setting on a sunny morning. There are frequent interruptions because of the noise of children, geese, tractors and sirens. We begin in bright sunshine under clear skies but clouds start to emerge and, for reasons of continuity, we have to stop shooting every time the sun goes in. And so it’s stop start, stop start all morning so that before long our brains turn to mush. But the BBC crew, who are no doubt used to this , are endlessly patient and helpful and see us through it.
But it will need some pretty nifty editing to produce anything worth watching
Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
Monday, April 19th, 2010
The week after Easter, Mark Richardson and I visited Cumbria to discuss the step configuration at Kirkstone, look at some urns and containers and have the chance to see for our first time, progress on the aviary.
Nick Fecitt and his team at Kirkstone are clearly passionate about their product and work, taking the time to get all pieces of the three steps just right before cutting to shape. The warm spring weather and beautiful scenery in the Lakes added to the enjoyment of the day. After a jolly good lunch at Newby Bridge Hotel we went to Kendal to see the aviary. Tucked away in a warehouse on a trading estate next to the railway line is not the typical location you’d expect to find a key structure destined for the most prestigious horticultural show on earth! But here it was, the aviary in all it’s newly galvanised glory. This is some impressive structure and Mark and I were bowled over by the care and attention to details the guys from Cumbria have given to the building. They are now busy matching paint colour (we’re trying to get as close as possible to the aquamarine colour of the Waddesdson aviary) and finalising the ornate decorative embellishments, which will be painted in gold leaf.
Elsewhere, the slate from Kirkstone for the terrace and stone for the wall, in bags, is making it’s way down to Suffolk to Mark’s compound where the terrace will be dry constructed, each piece numbered and packed for delivery to Chelsea in just over two week’s time.
Friday, April 16th, 2010
The mosaic which Maggy Howarth is creating for the Victorian Aviary garden is 12 square metres in size, which may not sound much but is the size of the average spare bedroom- in other words pretty damn massive when you think that it’s made entirely of pebbles. I went to Maggy’s workshop today to see how things were coming along. It’s about half finished, with the main part of the design, the Peacock, laid out in one enormous piece outside and the rest , including the border, in sections on several large tables in the workshop. I’m completely taken aback by the intricacy of the work and the quality of the craftsmanship. It’s awe-inspiring. . We checked the time table and Maggy gave a big gulp when I confirmed that the mosaic needs to be at Chelsea for May 13th, which is less than four weeks from now. Mark, her only assistant, is away installing a mosaic in Gatehead. As soon as he gets back, it will be flat out for them both until the mosaic is safely installed.
Thursday, April 8th, 2010
When Sally and I first visited Kirkstone in January it was so cold that Sally’s toes turned to ice and took hours to recover. What a contrast with today- the sun is so fierce that I have to wear a hat to protect my head from sunburn. I’m at Kirkstone with Philippa and Mark for what will probably be our last visit before the show. We have come to discuss the steps and we need to decide how best to lay the slate which will cover them. Nick goes through the options and recommends that we lay the slate in a “pineapple chunk” pattern, which will form a good contrast with the slate on the floor of the Aviary. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of the craftsmen who would have tackled the problem in Victorian times. “Pineapple chunks” is probably not the technical term they would have used. But we get the gist and pineapple chunks it is. Nick has a full size template and lays out the slate as he would like it to be, marking the pattern with chalk. His attention to detail is impressive and after 90 minutes of discussion we leave in good spirits, warmed by the sun.
Friday, March 26th, 2010
It wasn’t until I saw it assembled today for the first time (without the roof or any of the joinery) that I realised just how impressive a structure our aviary is. Impressive, firstly, in its bulk- its huge, far larger than I had envisaged. Impressive also in its solidity- it is made of solid steel and the structural engineer who came to assess it today only had to whack it with his foot to conclude that it’s never going to fall down. Impressive, thirdly, in the quality of its craftsmanship- the detailing is astonishingly good. I will be very proud, when it leaves here for Chelsea, to think that the workmanship is all Cumbrian.
The next step will be for the steel to be galvanised. It’s being dismantled today and will go to the galvanisor on Monday, so that it will be ready for Philippa and Mark to view it straight after Easter, by which time the roof should be ready.
Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010
Two days into spring and a realisation, having just flicked through my calendar, that it’s only six weeks before we are on site to build the garden. After weeks of frantic planning and discussions, it seems almost ethereal that this garden which has been buzzing about in my head for so long is getting closer to realisation.
Plants are growing happily, although I have no idea at this stage what is going to make it, and what isn’t. A visit next month to Hampshire, where most of the plants are, will put the front runners on the starting block. I was asked by a journalist recently which plant will be a ‘must have’ at the show this year: selecting one plant is a challenge to a self-confessed plant nut but then, I quite like a challenge. I think it will have to be the voluptuous Paeonia ‘Sarah Bernhardt, seen in the photo above in a client’s garden in Hertfordshire. She’s very sexy and will look perfect lounging around in the borders of our Chelsea garden.
Jonathan rang me excitedly yesterday to say the main structure of the aviary, which is being built by craftsmen in Cumbria, will be put up at the end of this week. The ornate decorations and roof will follow, but at least we’ll get some idea of the size of the building. Mark Richarsdson, landscaper, and I are going to Cumbria after Easter for a flurry of visits to see the aviary progress, visit Kirkstone to look at the slate and see Maggy Howarth and the mosaic. Mark is busy working on some templates for the terrace steps to send to Kirkstone so that the steps will fit perfectly on site, rather like a jigsaw puzzle.
Thursday, March 11th, 2010
‘I had a day out getting the coloured rocks for the peacock’s tail; there’s a glorious Aladdins cave in Yorkshire where you can buy exotic rocks & gemstones from all over the world…. I came back with aventurine (soft bottle green) & amazonite (pale aquamarine… or swimming pool green) & lapis lazuli.. Brilliant blue. All very extravagant, but we need the colours. They are at this moment rumbling away in my big tumbler, & will need a few more days yet to make them like “pebbles”.’
The photo is of the little birds which will be used in the border. The whole process of drying, then firing, glazing and firing again takes about three weeks and Maggy can’t start work on the border until they are all ready. See the posting on February 2nd for a drawing of Maggy’s design.
Monday, March 8th, 2010
Less than two months to go before we are on site at Chelsea to build the garden! Where did the last two months go, I ask myself? There has been a flurry of e-mails, phone calls, visits here and there and endless meetings in the quest to get the garden’s components up and running. Plants were sourced and ordered in January with most of the perennials being grown for us by Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants in Hampshire. I spoke to Rosie Hardy this morning and joy of joys, buds are emerging from pots of brown soil! Paeony and Iris experts Kelways are growing these for us and the ferns: another phone conversation with Dave there who said that the paeony buds were starting to poke up in the pots and the ferns were coming on very well. April will see me flying down to Hampshire and Somerset to check the goodies out but the the feedback is…” a few more weeks of this warm sunshine and the plants will look great”. Must remember not to do too many of my rain dances, then. Luckily, the trees and hedges are local to me at Deepdale Trees in Bedfordshire but it’s still not worth going to see plants until next month.
Ah, now I know where the last couple of months has gone – I’ve been wishing it away waiting for spring!
The photo is of one of our trees, Mespilus germanica (Medlar). This was taken in May last year and shows the pretty white flowers which, fingers crossed, we should have in bloom for Chelsea. It makes a very decorative tree in autumn with stunning colourful foliage and unusual edible fruits, although I have heard them described as looking like cat’s bottoms!
Friday, February 19th, 2010
Excitement is in the air as we have a peek for the first time at our “plot” at Chelsea . Philippa and Alex (the show organisor) are pictured here in exuberant mood on Main Avenue in front of what will, in less than three month’s time, become the Victorian Aviary Garden. The site couldn’t be better because we’re on the main thoroughfare close to the main entrance through which 70% of the visitors enter- that’s up to 50,000 people a day.
The only times I’ve been here before have been on show days, when the site seems vast- almost impossible to get round in half a day- but today when there are no buildings or people- or gardens!- the space seems impossibly small. It’s just a gentle stroll from one side to the other.
The video below shows the full panorama, with a glimpse of Philippa, Alex and Mark Richardson (the guy who will be in charge of the build).
Monday, February 8th, 2010
Peacocks have been a feature of our Victorian Aviary Garden from the start. In our first submission to the Chelsea panel, when the garden was called “A Bird Lover’s Garden”, we had Peacock chairs on the Aviary terrace. The idea of the chairs didn’t survive the first draft but the peacock imagery re-emerged when Maggy Howarth designed her lovely peacock mosaic for the pathway leading to the aviary. Today we have learned that the aviary which inspired ours, the one at Waddesdon Manor, was built in honour of a visit in 1889 by the Shah of Persia, the occupier of the Peacock Throne. The Shah’s host was Baron Frederick de Rothschild, who completed the magnificent rococco structure just in time for the Shah’s visit. This is how the aviary was described by the Bucks Advertiser at the time:
“The enlarged Aviary was only completed just before the Shah’s visit and is now a little showground in itself. There is a superb collection of birds such as parrots, doves and pheasants of the brightest plumage, and with every arrangement for their well being in the shape of lofty caged enclosures. The aviary surpasses that of the Zoological gardens…”
It’s good to think that, however inadvertently, this peacock imagery has been carried forward over 121 years.
My thanks to an article by Sophieke Piebenga in the Historic Gardens Review for these fascinating details.